Building the Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs are a hallmark of successful companies. How can you build the business case for a D&I program in your organization? This summary of the Diversity & Inclusion panel that we ran at the F 2017 CUE Conference in Indianapolis shares some tips. (Part 1 here)
We already know that D&I programs make companies more competitive and sustainable, and a comprehensive employee relations strategy must include a diversity component. But where do you start if you don’t have an existing program, and how do you get buy-in from the executive leadership team? CUE’s Diversity & Inclusion panel shared some tips from their own experience at the Fall 2017 Conference.
Values, Strategy and Objectives Matter
First, take a look at the organization’s values. How do diversity and inclusion fit with those values? Then, look at the business strategy and objectives. How can a diversity program help the organization meet those objectives, and how does it align with the long-term business strategy. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have active diversity programs – they don’t have this because it’s the right thing to do; they do what gets results.
Mind the Gaps of Inclusion
Next, determine where your gaps are, both internally (employees, leadership) and externally (customers, vendors, suppliers, charitable donations). Sometimes it’s better to have an outside organization come in to assess these gaps. Successful organizations understand upcoming retirement and retention trends and are clear on what talent is necessary to stay competitive.
If you have a lot of areas that need improvement, don’t try to tackle them all at once. Choose one or two of the most critical areas to work on first. Once you’ve met those objectives, then you can focus on new ones. Look for diversity champions, especially in the leadership team.
Supplier diversity is mandated in government contractors, but it gets good results for everyone – women-, minority-, and veteran-owned businesses deliver the same quality product or service, but they tend to be more loyal and more likely to promote your business.
Speak the Language
When making the business case, use the same language and structure as the organization uses for any other business case. Make the case that D&I is an imperative not just to compete in the marketplace, but to lead the competition. Network with those who have existing D&I programs, both inside and out of your industry, and talk to them about strategies they used to make the business case and how they presented it to the C Suite. Use benchmarking and lists like Diversity Inc.’s Top 50 or the Corporate Equality Index to determine where you are and to help you measure your successes.
Your business case must be tied to business objectives, such as driving revenue and global growth or reducing turnover. Your employee resource groups (ERG’s) should have the same structure as other parts of the organization, with an executive sponsor, co-chairs, and committee leads. Their strategies should be specific, geared toward your areas of opportunity (e.g. recruitment, retention, promotion), and clearly aligned with business objectives.
Establish meaningful metrics for ERG’s and make sure your membership is varied; you want to avoid ERG’s becoming a social club. Once your ERG’s are in place, you can utilize them to help the organization accomplish business objectives. One example that was given was using a Young Professionals group to reverse-mentor older employees when the company transitioned to a paperless system. This innovative approach led to a successful implementation that was replicated globally. Diversity and inclusion are about building better relationships, not just mitigating risk.
Establishing accountability and measuring success can be difficult. Consider adding a diversity component to your employee opinion surveys to gauge employees’ views. You can use this information to drive membership in ERG’s, since members are more likely to view the organization favorably. To introduce accountability in leadership, many companies have used a layered approach, first making diversity a part of executive leadership bonuses, then moving down one layer each year. This top-down approach allows people to become accustomed to D&I being a part of the broader business strategy.